Paperwork to bring backpacking

Paperwork to bring backpacking

If your next adventure is taking you into the backcountry, you’re likely making a list of things to leave behind to keep your pack weight down. Chances are, you’re looking at your wallet and wondering if you'll need to carry the entire thing up and down (and up and down) the mountains. If the only paperwork you’re bringing is a map, read on!

Packing these items is only the first step – you also want to ensure any of the information/cards are quickly and easily replaceable in case something happens, such as your pack washing away during a river crossing or your pack being stolen. Before you leave, duplicate the cards that you can and leave an extra set(s) with a friend or family member who can mail a new copy to you along the trail.

Gearing up for your next backpacking, hunting, or long distance outdoor adventure? Check out our backpacking gear checklist!


While the most obvious on this list, it’s also the most important. An ID allows you to pick up packages, check into lodging, rent a car or other items. We recommend bringing a plastic ID, not a paper copy as, sadly, an ID can help identify your body if something goes wrong.

Top reasons to carry ID:

  • Picking up mail drops at post offices or private businesses
  • Checking in at campsites/hotels/motels/hostels
  • Renting a car or other miscellaneous rentals
  • Purchasing alcohol on zero days in town
  • Body identification 

Credit card, Debit card

Bring one of each and try to bring cards from different banks (ie, bring one Visa and one Mastercard). If you’re traveling in a group and you intend to stay together, vary the type of cards/banks so that you have enough variety in case certain types are not accepted.

Top reasons to carry both a Credit and Debit Card:

  • Credit card purchases usually have more consumer protection if you need to purchase new gear along the trail
  • Debit cards are often accepted where credit cards are not
  • Debit cards let you take cash out along the trail so you aren’t backpacking with more cash than you need

Insurance information:

If you need to seek medical treatment while backpacking or off the trail at a town, don’t get caught without your medical insurance card. While sometimes overlooked, you can also purchase additional wilderness search and rescue insurance.  

Insurance info to bring:

  • Medical insurance card(s)
  • Wilderness SAR insurance 

Fact Sheet:

You’ll also want to bring some information with you that might be variable or that doesn’t have  any official documentation.

You can write all of this on a piece of paper and laminate it or keep in a watertight covering.

Your fact sheet should include:

  • Car License Plate (if parked at a trailhead)
  • Any critical medical information (medication, allergies, diseases, etc)
  • Emergency Contacts (Minimum of 3)

What to leave in the car:


I try to leave as little in the car as possible when parking at a trailhead for an extended trip in case of a break in. This means no extra credit or debit cards stashed away in the glovebox or hidden elsewhere in the car.


Depending on where I park, I sometimes leave a note on the dashboard stating my trip duration (start and end date), expected trip route, and something identifiable – EG blue backpack.


Other Tips:


If you’re planning an international trip, then you should consider getting a wristband that lists any important medical information or allergies in the local language.

Many thru hikers or long distance backpackers also wear a wristband with ID information (or dog tags) in case they are separated from their pack in an emergency.

Other forms of identification:

Another common form of identification in the case of an emergency is tagging your big 3 with your initials or first name.


Enjoy your trip and stay safe!


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